A Conversation with Lindy Hume, Stage Director of Seattle Opera’s ‘Rigoletto’

Lindy Hume creates a contemporary production of Verdi’s tragedy which explores, rather than overlooks the sexual assault and misogyny that is rampant within the opera. Bringing a relevant Rigoletto to audiences in a post-#MeToo era takes a feminist perspective and some inspiration from modern-day political figures.

Stage Director of 'Rigoletto.'
Stage Director Lindy Hume. Courtesy of Seattle Opera

Why did you update Rigoletto?

Lindy Hume: The problem with not updating Rigoletto is that a Renaissance-era codpiece-cloak-and-hose setting in a fictional court of Mantua lets the licentious Duke off the hook for his appalling treatment of women. Verdi turned a famous philanderer into a rock star by giving him some of the best music to the most misogynistic lines ever written (Act 1 “it’s this girl or that girl, they’re all the same to me …” and in Act 3 “women are unreliable …”). These are two of the most jaunty, charming, popular tunes in the entire operatic repertoire, with a bravado that’s guaranteed to win the audience over. Even contemporary audiences in a post-#MeToo world, who can’t help but gasp at his shameless audacity and brazenness, adore those arias—which is what makes them so brilliant! I created this production for New Zealand Opera in 2012. I found inspiration for the spirit of this bad boy Duke of Mantua in Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister, who at that time was breezing through his “bunga bunga” sex trial with his signature blend of political incorrectness, immaculate tailoring, and dazzling—if cosmetically enhanced—smile. Where better to set the debauched action of Rigoletto than the colorful, charismatic, spectacularly excessive “Berlusconi Court”? Even now that Silvio has retreated from public life his reputation is the stuff of legend.

So, this interpretation isn’t about Donald Trump?

It’s not explicitly Trump’s America, or Berlusconi’s Italy, but a modern, highly recognizable version of the dystopian, brutal, corrupt society Victor Hugo and Verdi imagined as the background for the tragedy of Gilda and her father. The court’s treatment of Monterone, the heartbroken father of a girl whose reputation the Duke has publicly ruined, quickly descends from boredom to murder. Tired of the old man ranting, the Duke sentences him to death in a state-sanctioned execution. As a feminist and a fan of Verdi’s wonderful observation of human behavior, how could I resist bringing these worlds together in an imagined scenario where the excesses of obscene wealth, the corruption of high political power, and the moral void of the court all vibrate with an undercurrent of fear, violence, misogyny, and criminality? This is the world of Verdi’s Rigoletto, and our own.

Madison Leonard in Seattle Opera's 'Rigoletto.'
Madison Leonard in Seattle Opera’s ‘Rigoletto.’ Photo by Sunny Martini

Why do you choose to explore sexual assault in the theatre?

As we have seen in recent years, particularly through the #MeToo movement, sexual assault is an issue across society that women have been living with for centuries, and increasingly have decided to confront wholesale. My response is not only from the perspective of a feminist woman director, but from that of an average audience member (opera audiences are mostly women, as you know). For years, I’ve been frustrated that this art form has not called out sexual assault and violence, but often celebrated it. For example, Wikipedia says: “the Duke sings of a life of pleasure with as many women as possible,” and mentions that “he particularly enjoys cuckolding his courtiers.” In the most famous and beloved operas—Rigoletto, Don Giovanni, Carmen, Tosca, Madama Butterfly—the tragic heroine is part of the vernacular. Sopranos must rehearse how to fall, be stabbed, brutalized, and thrown across the room, behaviors they would never accept in real life. In 2019, if opera aspires to be a progressive, future-focused art form with relevance in contemporary society, then it must evolve and be responsive to a changing society. The topic of sexual assault and violence against women in opera is right there in front of us, either to explore, or to ignore.


Originally published in Seattle Opera’s Rigoletto program. Used with permission of Seattle Opera.


Rigoletto is onstage now at Seattle Opera through August 28. Tickets are available online.

David Samuel Talks Touring With Willy Wonka and the Gang

Seattle audiences will spot a familiar face in the touring production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory landing at The Paramount Theatre at the end of this month. Playing the father of golden ticket recipient Violet, David Samuel hopes that greater diversity in the show will help children connect with a story that he’s loved for years. He talked to Encore Spotlight about his “late” start in musical theatre, why diversity is so important in casting, and what type of chocolate he’d make in his factory.

Rosemary Jones: In earlier interviews, you mentioned that you came to musical theatre late. What inspired you to try this career?

David Samuel: When I say I came to musical theatre late, I mean that I didn’t have the typical “I grew up in dance classes and singing lessons from the age of five” story. I started considering musical theatre around the age of 19, when I took a musical theatre history class as a part of my degree requirements at the University of Maryland, College Park. I had a number of great teachers at that school, and Scot Reese was the musical theatre professor. I then went to graduate school at Brown University/Trinity Rep for my MFA in Acting. In that program we had a lovely singing teacher, Kathryn Jennings, as well as our head of voice and speech, Thom Jones. He really made me believe I had a voice, and I can’t thank him enough. 

Actor David Samuel. Courtesy of Broadway at The Paramount

What were your earliest experiences as a professional actor after college?

After graduate school I moved to New York City and musicals were not really on my mind. I did Shakespeare Off-Broadway at Classic Stage Company and as the universe would have it, my first show was with a who’s who of New York actors, one of them being André De Shields. 

A few months after our show closed, André called me and asked if I wanted to be in the upcoming production that he was directing of Ain’t Misbehavin’ with Crossroads Theatre at NJPAC. I said yes, and it was the most challenging thing I had ever done. The rest of my cast (including Borris Anthony York, who is in this production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) was so supportive and shoved with love all through our brief rehearsal process.

All of these experiences and lessons fueled me as I went in and out of audition rooms for months, ending up in front of Telsey Casting Director Rachel Hoffman and the creative team—Jack O’Brien, Matt Lenz, Josh Bergasse and Ali Solomon—for this production. Thankfully, whatever I did in that audition room worked in my favor.

Noah Weisberg, David Samuel, Brynn Williams and company in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.'
Noah Weisberg, David Samuel, Brynn Williams and company in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ Photo by Joan Marcus

You also worked in Seattle recently. Can you talk a little about what you did here last summer?

Last July, I was fortunate enough to be in The Williams Project’s production of Blood Wedding by Federico García Lorca, playing Leonardo. The Williams Project is a Seattle-based “theatre ensemble that strives to make theatrical excellence accessible to diverse and engaged audiences, while paying our artists a living wage.”

We performed at Equinox Studios, a studio space created for artists and artisans to collaborate, and we had local vendors sell food and drink prior to, and during the show. It was a beautifully immersive experience and I am grateful that Ryan Purcell, the artistic director (and a Brown/Trinity graduate), asked me to be in the production. 

The cast of Roald Dahl’s 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.'
The cast of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ Photo by Joan Marcus

In this return visit to Seattle, what do you want to do first in your time off? 

When I’m not performing, I’d love to go see The Williams Project’s latest production, The Bar Plays, which is two plays, Small Craft Warnings by Tennessee Williams and The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan, performed in repertory. I’d also love to check out Pike Place or find some live music in the city. 

When did you first encounter Charlie and his trip through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory?

I went to a small Lutheran school in Hyattsville, Maryland and I remember that the 1971 film with Gene Wilder was one of the only things we were allowed to watch. I have very fond memories in primary school and middle school of watching this film, munching on a bag of Cheetos and getting swept up in Charlie’s journey.

Though the Beauregardes are not the focus of the story, I hope with our presence on stage the audience is inspired to imagine and create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world for themselves and the generations that come after them.

David Samuel

It’s lovely that there’s greater diversity in this version. What do you think it means to the audience to have the Beauregarde family be African American in the musical?

I think diverse, inclusive and equitable representation is extremely important, to say the least. When we were performing in Los Angeles, a young black girl came up to me and said, “You were great! You looked just like my Dad up there.” I was honored that she saw her life reflected back to her through the performances of my castmates and I. A similar interaction happened in Baltimore, when one of our Willy Wonka understudies, Clyde Voce (who made history by being the first African American Willy Wonka), went on for Noah Weisberg. A white mother came up to us holding back tears because by seeing Clyde Voce perform as Willy Wonka, she was able to have the opportunity to explain to her young son the importance of diversity in casting and why people of color should have more opportunities to be seen all across the entertainment landscape. 

Though the Beauregardes are not the focus of the story, I hope with our presence on stage the audience is inspired to imagine and create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world for themselves and the generations that come after them.

The cast of Roald Dahl’s 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.'
The cast of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.’ Photo by Joan Marcus

Since you’re playing the very proud father of Violet Beauregarde, what Violet moment is your favorite in this show?

First of all, Brynn Williams (who plays Violet Beauregarde) is the sweetest human being and a vocal powerhouse. I learn so much from watching her onstage. All her moments are my favorite. If I had to pick one, it would be something that future audiences may not be able to see but speaks to the skill that Brynn brings to the role of Violet. One night, Violet’s microphone was not working and our audio team handed Brynn a handheld wireless microphone so that she could perform “The Queen of Pop.” She commanded that stage and brought an electricity that could only come from having to commit to a sudden change so quickly. She’s a rock star for that.

So, if you did win a chocolate factory, what would be your treat of choice?

I would try to combine baked goods and chocolate. Some sort of a chocolate bar with brownie bits and caramel. 


See David Samuel as Mr. Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory playing at Broadway at The Paramount July 31–August 11. Tickets are available online.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.

Dancing Like its 1929 in ‘Bright Star’

Bright Star, the musical currently playing at Taproot Theatre Company, keeps toes tapping with the stories of two couples, Alice and Jimmy Ray in the 1920s, and Margo and Billy in the 1940s. Filling the stage with period-appropriate and lively dance numbers was the job of choreographer Katy Tabb, whose work has been seen at Village Theatre, Seattle Symphony and Showtunes, among others. Tabb talked to Encore Spotlight about how she tackled this show and how a solo moment amid couples dancing became her favorite.

Rosemary Jones: Bright Star tells two interrelated stories set in different time periods. How did you set the dances to reflect that?

Katy Tabb: Historical research is always a huge part of my choreographic process and certainly informed the movement in this case. The show flashes back and forth between the 1920s small-town Zebulon, and 1940s big city Asheville. At the Zebulon “Couple’s Day Dance,” I wanted to make sure that the dance truly felt like an exciting social event in a small Southern town rather than a highly choreographed or refined performance. The script details very specific steps as called out by the Dance Caller in this scene—it was a very fun challenge to decide how to interpret these commands. For the number “Another Round” I incorporated swing dance that was en vogue in 1940s America. It was important to me to accurately reflect what was happening in the dance halls as soldiers returned home from war.

Choreographer Katy Tabb.
Choreographer Katy Tabb. Courtesy of Taproot Theatre

You’ve choreographed some really big shows, like the recent Newsies at Village Theatre. When you’re prepping for a Newsies or a Bright Star, what are your initial steps? 

Every show process starts with reading the script and listening to the score at least three times as I begin generating ideas for the choreography, followed by immense historic research. I will often listen to the popular music and watch film clips from the era (or eras) of a show to begin wrapping my head around the pulse and movement of the time period. Once I have some “big picture” ideas, I spend lots of time with the director discussing their vision and brain storming together. Typically auditions and casting follow—this step is always a very exciting part of my planning process. Watching future cast members in auditions always inspires new ideas! Actual movement invention and detailing of steps really begins in earnest after I know the cast and their unique skills. I typically have a very detailed plan for every number before heading into rehearsal, but my very favorite part of choreographing a show is exploring, changing and fine-tuning all of this brainstorming with the actors and creative team in the rehearsal room.

You regularly teach dance and also how to audition. What are your favorite classes to teach?

I absolutely love teaching Musical Theatre Dance—a class which allows me to explore the many styles of dance in theatre. On any given day, this class can explore a Jerome Robbins ballet, the specificity of Bob Fosse’s style, the athleticism of Newsies, the contemporary flavor of Wicked and beyond. Movement and dance in theatre requires versatility of its performers. Not only do actors need to be remarkable storytellers, they also need to have the “tools” to best tell their story. I find that the performers who continue to keep up with consistent training in a variety of dance styles (a tall order for a working artist) bring a greater wealth of possibility to a rehearsal room.

What type of training do you recommend for musical theatre performers?

Performers who have trained with a variety of dance teachers and choreographers tend to retain choreography more quickly and prove to be more adaptable to change and exploration during the creative process. I encourage all actors, whether they are a “trained” dancer or not, to take foundational ballet classes that will give them the dance vocabulary, fundamental technique, and connection to their physical instrument necessary for working with most choreographers in theatre.

Brain Pucheu and Brenna Wagner in the 1920s couple's dance.
Brain Pucheu and Brenna Wagner in the 1920s couple’s dance. Photo by Erik Stuhaug

Space is a bit of an issue on the Taproot stage—as is the closeness of the audience—so how do you choreograph in those parameters?

Interestingly enough, I find that having strict parameters actually frees space for creativity in my planning—these limits create structure for me to play within. I particularly love choreographing on Taproot’s Jewell Mainstage because it allows me to explore more interesting three-dimensional staging than I may be able to explore on a more traditional proscenium stage. On the Taproot stage, I constantly have to make sure that actors are changing direction to ensure that every audience member can experience the show completely—this requires a consistent flow of movement that is not necessarily required on the larger stages. Though space for dancing is more limited, I find that the opportunities for creative formation changes are particularly exciting in this space.

Which number was the biggest challenge?

Margo’s beautiful song “Asheville” was the number in this show that I most struggled with at first. The song itself is so beautiful, it could easily be done with Margo singing solo onstage in a spotlight, but I really wanted to utilize creative staging that would help to illustrate Margo’s experience as well as utilize the wonderful male backup vocalists in a unique way. I ultimately decided to play with staging a scene with the two customers (backup vocalists) in her bookshop; the movement “freezes” and “unfreezes” to highlight how Margo is feeling. Finessing this concept in tandem with specific, detailed lighting cues was very challenging. Despite it also being the most challenging number for me to create (and one of the more deceptively simple looking numbers), “Asheville” has become my favorite number in the show. The song is so sweet and I am proud of the full team collaboration and heart that went in to its creation.


Bright Star is now playing through August 17 at Taproot Theatre Company. Tickets are available online.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.

Jeffrey Lo Realizes a Decade-Long Dream with ‘The Language Archive’

To say Jeffrey Lo wears many hats would be an understatement. Not only is he the casting director of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, he’s also the director of The Language Archive and a playwright in his own right. “I’ve been fortunate to hold many roles at TheatreWorks,” Lo said, “and the joke is by the time my new business cards get printed, I’ve already changed titles.” I had the pleasure of speaking with Lo over the phone as he headed into tech rehearsal for The Language Archive, which opened July 10.

Danielle Mohlman: Can you share a little bit about The Language Archive? What drew you to this play initially? And why this play now?

Director of 'The Language Archive' Jeffrey Lo
Director of ‘The Language Archive’ Jeffrey Lo. Photo by Tasi Alabastro

Jeffrey Lo: You know, The Language Archive is a play that I have actually been trying to get the chance to direct for about ten years.

Really?

Yeah. I find this play to be one the most beautifully written pieces of theatre I have ever come across. It’s a play about both the beauty and possibility of language, but also the limitation of language. It’s about allowing human beings, as messy as we are, to express ourselves and share how we’re feeling with one another.

Yeah.

And I find that to be so beautiful. So much of this play lives in this world of beautiful coincidences and things happening for a reason. And I think that me getting the opportunity to do The Language Archive now, as opposed to any other time in the ten years that I’ve been chomping at the bit to work on this play, lands in line with that “everything happens for a reason” theme. The first time I ever saw a staged reading of a play was a workshop reading of this play—while it was still in development.

Oh wow.

I was still an undergraduate aspiring playwright and director at UC Irvine. And I just found myself in awe of the language and in awe of the process of a stage reading. I had never seen that before. There was a playwright in the back, Julia Cho, who was taking her notes and revising things as she was going. And there was a group of actors who had three rehearsals beforehand and were just beautifully performing this intense language on stage for us. And I was just in awe of it.

Emily Kuroda emphasizes the importance of love in 'The Language Archive.'
Emily Kuroda emphasizes the importance of love in ‘The Language Archive.’ Photo by Alessandra Mello

After I finished college, I had my directing apprenticeship at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and they were doing The Language Archive. So I ended up getting to observe and assistant direct that play and Julia Cho was in the room there. And I fell in love with that play all over again. This was in 2011, maybe my first or second professional theatre job out of college. And it was a time where, outside of school, I had interacted with very few artists of color. That experience working with Laurie Woolery, who is a Latinx director, and the way she mentored me, the way she spoke to me really made me feel like I belonged.

It’s one of those things where everything about The Language Archive has just made it so I have to direct it. And to be able to do that as the first show of the 50th season at TheatreWorks—the final season of Robert Kelley, who I have worked for basically my entire professional career—it’s a real honor.

I rambled. I’m so sorry.

No, that’s really beautiful. All of that was so wonderful. You have such a long history with this play. I’m like, oh my god, can I come see this play?

Oh, please do. Please do.

Jomar Tagatac reflects on how to communicate with wife, Elena Wright, who recently left him in 'The Language Archive.'
Jomar Tagatac reflects on how to communicate with wife, Elena Wright, who recently left him in ‘The Language Archive.’ Photo by Alessandra Mello

What is it about TheatreWorks that keeps you coming back? I don’t want to put the words “artistic home” in your mouth, but you did say that like you’ve been there your whole professional career, so what is it that keeps you engaged in TheatreWorks and excited to come to work every day?

I’ve learned that TheatreWorks’ culture is rare. I didn’t know this until I started to work as a freelancer at other theatres, but so much of what draws me to TheatreWorks is the culture that our Founding Artistic Director Robert Kelley has created. I don’t think he ever imagined TheatreWorks was going to become as large as it is today. I don’t think that he ever imagined that, fifty years later, he was going to be on stage at Radio City Music Hall holding up the Regional [Theatre] Tony Award. He really runs this company as just a group of friends just wanting to put on some plays. And as the company has continued to grow, although there’s a lot more paperwork, that feeling of we’re just buddies trying to put on some art that we feel passionate about is still tangible within the room. And I think that’s what keeps me coming back. Because I now know that that’s not how it always works out.

I’m sure people ask you this all the time, but it’s easy to think about Silicon Valley as this tech magnet. But I know that it’s so much more. How do you marry the startup and tech culture of Silicon Valley with the artistry and exploration of theatre in your work?

I’m born and raised in the Bay Area and it’s pretty wild to see how quickly it’s changed. I think once we’re able to engage folks who work in the tech and startup industry, that’s going to allow our art to flourish even more than it already is. But having said that, I like to think that I run my rehearsal room in a way that the most exciting—and safest—tech startups seem to work. I want all of my artists [to] feel like rehearsal is a safe place to take your biggest risks, to be as creative as possible. That way, we can find the most interesting ideas together.


The Language Archive opens TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s 2019-20 season, now playing through August 4 at Lucie Stern Theatre. Tickets are available online.


Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American Theatre, The Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

Celebrating Love, Revolt and Transformation in Seattle Men’s Chorus’ Upcoming Concert

For their summer concert, the Seattle Men’s Chorus (SMC) commemorates Stonewall’s 50th anniversary with pop music of the 1960s and a commissioned work. Executive Director Steven F. Smith promises the Summer of 69 concert will be full of chart-topping and culture-defining songs to send its audience dancing out the door.

Rosemary Jones: The summer of 1969 may have been called “The Summer of Love”, but it was also a summer of profound social change. What do you think were the most pivotal events that summer?

Steven Smith: Music events like Woodstock might have been part of a culture of love and openness for certain folks, but I think 1969 was about the distillation of righteous anger and action. Stonewall was a flash point for the simmering rage and frustration against discrimination in the LGBT community but it did not happen in isolation. At the same time, Vietnam War protests and rampant racial discrimination were roiling the country. The country was angry. What was pivotal was the need for change from the status quo.

Executive Director Steven Smith. Courtesy of Seattle Men’s Chorus

How do the songs selected for this concert reflect what was happening beneath the surface, as well as the headline-making events?

We wanted to explore the sense of division and “coming-apartness” in the country at that time. In addition to Stonewall, you had “hippies” and war protesters descending on Woodstock, Nixon’s law and order campaign, and the unifying wonder of the first moon landing. If you turned on the radio in 1969, the “Top 40” pop music of the day reflected that culture clash in a way that you don’t hear today. We’ve got the funk of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” juxtaposed with Frank Sinatra’s old school “My Way.” And Neil Diamond’s ultimate sing-along “Sweet Caroline” and Marvin Gaye’s iconic “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” The music reflects the convergence of culture, sex, identity and politics in a way that began to redefine America.

The concert also includes the new musical work “Quiet No More.” Can you describe this piece?

It’s a suite of music theatre style songs commissioned by more than 20 LGBT choruses around the country, including SMC, for this 50th anniversary of Stonewall. It’s a bit of history and a bit of forward-looking inspiration to continue the fight for equality. Because the patrons of the Stonewall Inn (who became victims of police brutality during the uprising) were gay and lesbian and trans folk and people of color, we found diverse composers who reflected these identities to create a collection of songs about what happened during the riot, what it felt like and how it has inspired and reverberated in our community since then.

What’s the one song that you can’t get out of your head after listening to rehearsals?

For the finale we wanted a sense of celebration and unity, so the classic Edwin Hawkins’ gospel song “Oh Happy Day” has had me dancing and swaying all week. It’s timeless and joyful.


Summer of 69 with the Seattle Men’s Chorus takes place at Benaroya Hall, June 21 at 8 p.m. and June 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be found online.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.

A Conversation with Choreographers Dammiel Cruz, Miles Pertl and Kiyon C. Ross

Dammiel Cruz, Miles Pertl and Kiyon C. Ross aren’t yet household names, but they will be. Cruz joined the Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 2016 and was promoted to the corps de ballet later that same year. Pertl joined PNB as a corps de ballet dancer in 2015 after being a corps de ballet member at both Stuttgart Ballet in Germany and Het Nationale Ballet in the Netherlands. And Ross joined PNB in 2001, the very same year he created his first piece of choreography. He’s been the NEXT STEP program manager at PNB since 2012, a position he held simultaneously with his career as a soloist at PNB before retiring from dance in 2015.

Together, these three represent the past, present and future of choreography at the Pacific Northwest Ballet and beyond. And because we have sunshine on the brain, we wanted to talk to them about their experience choreographing for the outdoors and how performances like Sculptured Dance (2016–2017) and NEXT STEP: OUTSIDE/IN (2018–present) affect the way they choreograph.

Danielle Mohlman: How does choreographing for an outdoor performance compare to choreographing for a more traditional theatre space?

Dammiel Cruz, choreographer for the 2019 NEXT STEP: OUTSIDE/IN: Choreographing for an outdoor setting can be very different. Luckily a lot of the movement involved in my piece can be easily performed outside. Sometimes dancing on concrete or grass can limit one’s ability to turn well. Either way, I believe dancing outside is a great way to get more of the community involved in the arts! 

Miles Pertl, choreographer of Riding the Wave for the 2018 NEXT STEP: OUTSIDE/IN: Dancing outside offers the dancers and the choreographers a completely different experience. The audience is so close that you can hear every “Oooh,” every sigh, every chuckle. This is a stark contrast to dancing on the stage at McCaw Hall where the audience appears as a black void, only making themselves known by their applause at the end of the performance. Before OUTSIDE/IN, I had danced in both of the first two years’ iterations of Sculptured Dance and fell in love with it. I was exposed to choreographers I had never worked with, met amazing dancers from our city and got to dance outside and mingle with those watching. It was so cool!

Kiyon C. Ross, choreographer of Do. Not. Obstruct. for the 2016 Sculptured Dance: When choreographing for traditional spaces, I know generally what I have to work with. There’s usually a square space with a number of wings for entrances and exits. Sometimes there’s a space for dancers to cross over behind the cyclorama. And usually there’s a curtain—and at the very least top lighting and side lighting. Creating a site-specific work requires the same level of planning, preparation and creative process as choreographing for the stage. But being in a space already occupied by art (like the Olympic Sculpture Park) and using that art as an inspiration, is unforgettable. I certainly had to approach the site-specific commission with flexibility. But that flexibility allowed me to find new ways of expressing movement. It forced me to consider bodies in space in ways that were completely unorthodox to me.

Kiyon C. Ross’s 'Do. Not. Obstruct.' at Summer at SAM: Sculptured Dance, 2016.
Kiyon C. Ross’s ‘Do. Not. Obstruct.’ at Summer at SAM: Sculptured Dance, 2016. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

What was your most joyful experience choreographing for Sculptured Dance?

Ross: The most joyful experience for me was being able to share my art with so many people. Making art accessible and approachable is extremely important—especially for an art form like dance. Sometimes going to the theatre can create barriers for people, both economically and socially. Having art in your community where you live and being able to access it with your friends and neighbors is a meaningful experience. Seeing the faces in the crowds—and seeing people take a moment from riding their bikes, walking their dogs or their evening strolls to appreciate dance in a space that is meant to be shared by everyone—is certainly a cherished memory from this experience.

PNB’s outdoor performances are free to the community. Talk to me about the importance of accessible art in our community.

Cruz: I absolutely love that PNB’s outdoor performances are free of charge. I believe it’s incredibly important to have accessible art not only in our community, but communities everywhere because it gives the opportunity for all minds to be inspired. Art provides an outlet for people to express themselves. 

Pertl: Art doesn’t need to feel high-minded or elite. By providing accessible art, we provide a place where our entire community can gather. Each one of us gets bogged down with work, school and personal drama. But when you come to an event like OUTSIDE/IN or any of the other events around our city, you are entering a place of community and shared experience. You get a glimpse into the artists’ lives and their experience might mirror your own. Many of the artists I know are creating art not for the money, but for the opportunity to share it with everyone.

This Dialogue has been excerpted and lightly edited from three separate interviews, all conducted in April 2019.


Danielle Mohlman is a nationally produced feminist playwright and arts journalist based in Seattle. Her play Nexus is among the 2015 Honorable Mentions on The Kilroys list. She is an alumnus of the inaugural class of Playwrights’ Arena at Arena Stage and the 2018 Umbrella Project Writers Group.

Anjelica McMillan Gives Us a Taste of the ‘Dream’ at Book-It

For her debut at Book-It Repertory Theatre, Anjelica McMillan plays Neni Jonga, a recent immigrant to the United States, in Behold the Dreamers.

Seattle audiences know McMillan from her work at Theater Schmeater, Annex Theatre and The Horse in Motion, among others. We talked to her about what it was like to portray both the character and the text of Imbolo Mbue’s award-winning novel.

Rosemary Jones: How would you describe Book-It’s style?

Anjelica McMillan: I’ve seen a lot of Book-It plays and always really enjoyed them. I thought they did good work and especially work that addresses controversial topics. It’s important for a theatre to open new perspectives. I saw the recited narrative as a Brechtian device*, not to take you out of the play but to remind you that you are watching a piece of theatre and that what is happening isn’t necessarily happening. That can be a comfort if something is intense.

Has acting in a Book-It show changed your perspective?

Now that I’ve been working with Myra [Platt, the director and adapter for Behold the Dreamers], I know that she thinks of the narrative as an inner monologue. That’s new for me—to be speaking my inner monologue out loud. Also having to find a specific object to give that narrative to, not necessarily talking to [the] audience and breaking the fourth wall for them.

This novel seems like it addresses issues that we’re all discussing now.

It is very timely because of the immigration issues in our country right now. I think back to Welcome to Braggsville (2017). That was the show that made me want to work with Book-It. Because that dealt with the controversy of racism in such an interesting way.

Does the characters’ race or status as immigrants matter the most in this story?

I think the piece speaks more to immigration than it does about race. The big question is whether or not Jende will achieve his green card and they will be able to stay. There are some interesting parallels to some black experience in this country—they end up working for a wealthy white family, which could happen to any black family. Beyond those parallels, you do see some micro-aggressions from the white characters.

Headshot of Anjelica McMillan
Anjelica McMillan. Courtesy of Book-It

How would you describe your character?

Neni is fearless. She is somebody who sees the world as her oyster. She sees anything is possible because she is no longer living under the burden of her family telling [her] what she can do. She’s also changed by what happens. She gets to the States with this innocence and that changes. She also gains an inner strength.

Would you describe yourself as a similar person or different from Neni?

I am kind of a shy, reserved person. I would be much more likely to see myself as not qualified for a job. I can shortchange myself. Neni never does that! She doesn’t have any sense of why couldn’t she do that. She’s exuberant and full of life and energy. In preparation for playing someone like that, I obviously re-read the book and continue to re-read and highlight certain passages. I’m learning to be more free in my body, to embody that youth and exuberance that she has. I’m having a lot of fun playing her and being able channel that energy.

What do you want the audience to understand about Neni?

That Neni is a strong woman, and that she wants to be an independent, strong, interesting African woman. To have a glimpse of what people in Cameroon are like. People assume that everyone in Africa is poor and think of Africa as one nation. There is so much more to Africa. Also to see that certain truths are universal. As they see the characters, they will find something in common with these people. It’s important to consider issues of immigration and how we treat immigrants in this country.

What’s your favorite moment as Neni?

I really enjoy playing her right after Jende gets hired. She is so excited about him starting a new job and just peppers him—she showers him with questions like confetti. It’s a fun scene to play. They’re just recently married so there’s this joy that comes from being in a new marriage and living a dream—it’s fun to play that scene with Sylvester [Foday Kamara, actor who plays Jende Jonga].

*A Brechtian device is a technique to distance the audience from emotional involvement in the play through reminders of the artificiality of the performance. Coined by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. Also called the alienation effect or distancing effect.


You can see Anjelica McMillan in Behold the Dreamers at Book-It Repertory Theatre now through June 30.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.

Price Suddarth Creates a Signature Ballet Reflecting PNB’s Dancers

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s final show of the season, Themes & Variations, marks the return of Price Suddarth’s Signature to McCaw Hall. The PNB soloist created this piece for PNB’s mainstage repertory in 2015, and it conveys the same fabulous energy that Suddarth has brought to his dance performances in Seattle since 2010. It’s also a highly personal piece crafted from the friendships and knowledge of the company’s dancers that only a true insider could have.

Rosemary Jones: How does your career as a dancer influence your choreography for Signature?

Price Suddarth: As a choreographer my movement style is extremely physical—likely stemming from my own similar movement quality as a dancer currently. In the studio, I begin within the confines of the classical ballet vocabulary, then begin to operate beyond it by developing and “stretching” the physicality within each step. Through this extreme physicality it is possible to research notions like kinetic energy—how it flows through the body and how to demonstrate that to an audience. In the end the desired effect would give the viewer a sense that the dancer is both fighting hard to shape their movements while also being blown through the air like a leaf in the wind.

Signature gives every dancer a distinct movement—their signature style as it were—and you spoke at the time about how connected the choreography was to your work with these dancers in the past. Did you need to adjust anything in the choreography for the 2019 presentation?

Choreographer Price Suddarth. Photo by Lindsay Thomas

In the creation of Signature every section had its own specific theme, largely influenced by the original cast. Coming back to it now I’ve been adjusting and tweaking to tailor these sections to the current dancers while also preserving the original intent. I always say there are 16 members of the cast—15 dancers and myself. While some dancers are new, there are some returning as well as myself. The changes in the piece correspond with those that have happened in the dancers themselves as well as in myself as a person and choreographer over the past few years.

The music is gorgeous and references Vivaldi while actually being an original composition for Signature. How did you work with composer Barret Anspach to achieve this?

Barret Anspach and I corresponded over a two-year period brainstorming how to incorporate Vivaldi music into a new composition and also how to tailor it to dance. Barret is the brother of a former PNB company member so luckily the language of ballet was not an entirely foreign concept to him.

Why was it important for the music to sound familiar to the audience?

Because Signature was my first introduction to the larger Seattle audience as a choreographer, I wanted to make a statement of who I am.  I wanted there to be elements of the whole show that were easily recognizable, demonstrating a common starting place where I would jump from.  My movement goes beyond classical ballet vocabulary thus the music needed to start from a place of understanding and then push past.

Where do you see your career as a choreographer going?

I can’t exactly be sure what’s next. Over the last five years since the premiere I’ve been working with various companies around the country as a choreographer. I’ve been greatly influenced by many different styles and many different voices in various environments. As a result, I’ve found a strong push to develop a very specific choreographic voice to call my own.  I’d love to bring that back to Seattle again.

Which is harder: standing in the wings waiting to dance or sitting in the audience waiting for a piece that you choreographed to be performed?

I’m one hundred percent more nervous waiting for a piece of mine to be performed than preparing to dance myself. There’s something terrifying about giving up all control—even just for 30 minutes between curtains. No matter how much trust you have in your dancers there will always be that brief moment where you can’t do anything and are forced into a passive role while you watch your very personal idea be placed on display for 3,000 people to see.


Price Suddarth’s Signature can be seen as part of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s last performance of the season, Themes & Variations showing now through June 9.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.

Talking Conquests and Comedy with John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone

During a workshop of Kiss My Aztec! in New York City this March, Artistic Associate and Assistant Dramaturg Katie Craddock huddled up with John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone in a wee writing studio to learn about the inspiration for this show, the political function of comedy, and their creative partnership.

Katie Craddock: John, where did the idea for this piece come from?

John: I wanted to create a space for our Latin stories, in the same humorous way I’d seen on Broadway with shows like Spamalot and in movies like Blackadder. The general public doesn’t know a lot about Aztec history—for instance, the Aztecs had libraries full of extensive codices, but many were burned by colonizers. Erasing history was (and is) a means of controlling a people.

Tony: When we were auditioning actors for this show, it was really depressing to me how many people had the same two or three shows on their résumés. It was a clear reminder of the paucity of Latin work, and it’s horrifying—there’s no established assumption yet that this work should be done. So you find yourself carving a new pathway, and John’s obviously done a brilliant job of insisting on that—in an inviting way. His genius is that he has found a voice and built a comic relationship with people across many backgrounds that wanna hear from him.

John: And Tony’s been my accomplice. I love working with Tony because he’s a beast for storytelling and narrative; there aren’t too many people on the planet as passionate and obsessed about proper storytelling as Tony. Also, he’s half Puerto Rican. That is so exciting for me—I wanna reach in there and grab that Puerto Rican in him, and tell him that he’s okay.

Tony Taccone, co-writer and director of 'Kiss My Aztec!'
Tony Taccone, co-writer and director of ‘Kiss My Aztec!’ Photo by Cheshire Isaacs

Tony: That’s a real thing for me. I started unconsciously pursuing Latin work about 15 years ago. Susie [Medak, Berkeley Rep’s managing director] pointed it out—she said, “Do you realize how much Latin work you’re doing? Your dormant Puerto Rican genes are blooming here.” But it was working on Latin History for Morons that drove me to make a conscious effort to examine my past, and actually research it. I went back to my mother and relatives and took their oral histories. It’s part of my heritage that could be lost—I need to recapture it and understand where I’m coming from. The pressure on my mother to assimilate was immense. She’s 92 years old and teaches Spanish to this day, but her upbringing was about trying to get in there with white people to succeed.

John: That’s what happens. I grew up in the hood, and all my friends were Latin and Black, but then when I got to college I was like, “Oh my God, I sound different than everybody, I talk different, I have different vernacular, and slang. I need to un-ghetto myself if I’m gonna succeed. ’Cause obviously I rub people the wrong way, and I just stand out too much.” But then I went to auditions and I’m like, “Wait a minute. They want me to be a gang leader, a drug lord, a janitor, or the killer in the episode.” And I’m like, “Wait a minute! I just went through this whole process of assimilating as hard as I could.” So quickly I learned that it didn’t matter how hard I worked, I would not be cast as lawyers or doctors.

Tony: Is that how your solo shows were born?

John: Absolutely. I thought, “Where are the Latin stories? Why aren’t we anywhere?” I needed to make material for myself. ’Cause I knew we were funny, I knew we were intellectual. I knew we had great stories to tell: present, past. So that became my life’s work. You ask yourself, “Why does this matter? What am I doing to change culture?”

This is a piece you are writing but not performing in. Is that something that you knew early on?

John: No, I was writing it for myself originally, about 10 years ago. It was a play then, not a musical. It wasn’t gaining traction. They said it was “funny, but, Aztecs?” They just didn’t get it. I had a lot of stories like that. Stories about Latin culture had no traction in Hollywood or TV. They just couldn’t get it.

How did you decide to not act in it?

John: Well, when it became a musical I was like, “I’m out.” I mean I’ve got an amazing voice, except for pitch or melody; otherwise you’d love to hear me.

Why did you make it a musical?

John: I think the impetus was Spamalot. The way they turned Holy Grail into a musical made me think, “Wow, maybe I can do that with my Aztec piece.” But then I realized I can’t write music, and started working with Benjamin [Velez] and David [Kamp], who can.

Tony: But the sensibility of a lot of the music comes from John—the comic spirit we’re tapping.

John: And you. Tony wants songs to move the plot forward. When I first started writing the musical I thought songs were like in an opera; they could just reveal the unconscious, or just be about emotion that you didn’t see. But it can’t—

Tony: In a musical you have to keep the momentum. It’s a difficult art form. The many elements have to feed each other…and we are trying to write a nontraditional musical. It’s a crazy new hybrid. There’s more book than usual, and we’re doing this Elizabethan/urban slang combination—this colliding of worlds. ’Cause it’s set in the 16th century.

Cast of 'Kiss My Aztec!'.
Cast of ‘Kiss My Aztec!’ Photo by Cheshire Isaacs

What do you find exciting or useful about that combination of period and modern language?

John: I wanted to create an Elizabethan patois. A Shakespearian language with ghetto slang. I love it in my ear—that juxtaposition. I’ve always loved slang, American vernaculars, and urbanisms. I grew up with that, and love hearing it combined with the Elizabethan language.

Are you hoping bridging that linguistic gap will make people draw parallels between the 16th century and now?

Tony: We never lose the sensibility that we are in the present day watching a theatrical event.The frame of the show breaks the fourth wall; it’s a company of actors saying, “We’re both sharing this same world with all its contradictions, challenges, fucked-up-ness, and beauty. And we are all gonna now look at what happened back in 1540.” We’re always trying to make the audience connect it to their own experience today. A lot of the contradictions and injustices are the same, which is depressing.

John: I mean, yes, things haven’t moved as far as we’d like, but we have to remember that progress is never linear—it goes backwards and forward, it’s not steady.

Tony: Yeah. I’ve only been alive in this period of time, but it seems to me from studying history that—

John: Oh you’re much older than you let on, come on. Didn’t you actually polish Cortés’ helmet?

Tony: What a bastard.

John: Yeah, Tony’s drawing from personal experience when we’re talking about the conquest.

Tony: Exactly. Oh, the horses were brutal. What was I saying?

You were talking about history.

Tony: Right. We tend to fall victim to mini cycles of our experience. Trump is elected, so we think, “Oh my God, there’s been no progress. We’re back to square one.” But that’s not really true historically, as John was saying. There is a war going on now. But our sensibility tends to be dominated by the present moment and we forget that if we look back at history, there’s always a struggle.

John: We progress and we regress.

Tony: It’s an ebb and flow. But hopefully the ebb doesn’t take us so far back that we can’t return from it.

On that rather dark note—this piece is full of outrageous humor, but it’s about a murderous oppression and attempted erasure of a people. It’s relentlessly silly, but makes powerful assertions about identity and resilience. Why is it important for you to be telling this dark story with humor?

John Leguizamo, conceiver and writer of 'Kiss My Aztec!'
John Leguizamo, conceiver and writer of ‘Kiss My Aztec!’ Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

John: That’s how I grew up, so that’s my sensibility. I had a very difficult upbringing, and humor was the thing that saved me and my family. And I think part of why I grew up that way is a consequence of the conquest. Like when I even look at some of the violent games that we played in Queens—Hot Peas and Butter, Manhunt, and Knuckles—they’re all games brought on from the conquest. There was such abuse of people, and abuse of families and children. So, I wanted to create this dark world, but also assert that there’s always hope. No matter how dark it is, no matter who the president is, and how much he’s trying to destroy decency and respect of others, it’s still a great time where women are rising in power and Latin people are getting their due. We elected many women, including Latina women, into office in the midterms. A lot of great things are happening even in this darkness.

Tony: That’s a perfect answer, John. The more personal answer for me is that I was the class clown because I had a massive speech impediment. I could not talk in complete sentences until I was in seventh grade. Being funny was the way out—the way to be liked. So I married that personal experience to a worldview. I realized comedy could invite people to look past their own prejudices, and that became part of my aesthetic. Look at Dario Fo—an amazing, political Italian comic who won the Nobel Prize [in 1997 because he “emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”]. Read his acceptance speech—it was very controversial that a clown won the fucking Nobel Prize, but he was a major political thinker using comedy to make people pay attention.

Tell me about the show’s range of musical genres.

John: We wanted a broad bandwidth of Latin music—the salsa, Latin freestyle, merengue, reggaeton, cumbia, as many of the beautiful aspects of Latin music as we could squeeze in, and the dances that come with them. We even throw a tango in there. Our music is everywhere these days. Cardi B is Dominican, and she’s the highest selling female rapper in the world. You got Bruno Mars, he’s Puerto Rican, and he’s doing the pop thing. And then you got Camila Cabello, she’s Cuban and she’s doing a more Latin R&B sound. Latin music goes everywhere, and so that’s what we try to cover, though it’s impossible to completely achieve—the A to Z of Latin music.

What are each of your favorite genres of Latinx music?

John: There are many styles that I love, but in particular la Sonora Matancera. They’re a Cuban/Afro-Cuban group that started in the 1920s—they made Cuban music that permeated Latin America. They were incredible crooners and wrote beautiful love songs.

Tony: Salsa, ’cause of my mom. Tito Puente was my mother’s cousin.

John: No! Oh my God, you’re illustrious.

What would your mothers think of this show?

Tony: Well, our mothers get along famously. My mother loves everything I do because I’m doing it.

John: I’ve been a huge pain in my mom’s ass trying to get her to understand the culture she came from, to help her understand her indigenous roots. Every time she sees my pieces, she learns something about herself and the culture she came from, and it’s great ’cause then she influences her friends.

Which character in the show do you most identify with?

John: It’s gotta be Pepe; he’s the artist saying, “Look, we matter, we count.”

Tony: Yeah, it’s the guy who’s trying to be funny and popular, but he’s doing all the wrong things.

John: We don’t win at basketball, we don’t win at football, we don’t win all the fights, but hey, we’re funny and interesting.


The world premiere of Kiss My Aztec! is now playing through July 14 at Berkeley Rep. Tickets can be purchased online.


This interview, written by Artistic Associate and Assistant Dramaturg Katie Craddock, was originally published in the program for this show.

Meet Mystic Inscho, One of the Kids Rocking Paramount’s Stage in ‘School of Rock’

While the musical School of Rock centers on a wannabe rock star posing as a substitute teacher, the showstoppers come from the crowd of child actors playing the students.  A performer since age 4, the now nine-year-old Mystic Inscho plays the role of Zack in the tour of School of Rock.

This triple threat performer loves being able to shred on stage, dance and sing in musical theatre’s first-ever kids rock band that plays live on stage.  But he also enjoys visiting zoos and aquariums across the United States and Canada, as well as being a star. Inscho will be stopping in Seattle in May as part of Broadway at The Paramount’s series.  So, we caught up with Inscho and talked about what he liked best about the show and how he keeps up with real school while on tour.

Mystic Inscho
Performer Mystic Inscho.

Rosemary Jones: Why did you want to be in School Of Rock?

Mystic Inscho: School Of Rock is so cool! Also, it is the only musical which requires kids to have serious music instrument skills.  The show has inspired me to practice my instruments. And I have been training in dancing, singing and acting since I was five.  I was so fortunate to get this chance.

Singing, playing an instrument, dancing or acting—what’s the hardest part of your job?

All of these things are performing and I love to perform.  But the hardest thing is to do the show over and over with little time for other things.  I love drums and piano but don’t have much time to play them. We perform eight shows a week over six days and then travel on the seventh day.  We try to be energetic and make every performance the best.

You’re playing a kid going to school but how do you keep up with your lessons in real life?

We are required to have 15 hours of school a week.  I have online courses for fifth grade and there are three tutors with us.  Also just visiting all of these cities is a great learning opportunity.

School of Rock Tour
‘School of Rock’ tour. Evan Zimmerman/Murphy Made Photography

What’s your favorite moment in in School Of Rock?

That would be when I play my guitar solo and rock out on the stage in “Teacher’s Pet” (one of the last songs). That’s when my dancing and guitar solo come together and the audience responds to me.         

If you were a rock star, what position would you want to play in the band?

Definitely the lead guitarist and singer.

Your Instagram account shows a lot of traveling for this show. What’s been your favorite stop so far?

I loved Ottawa and Washington DC.  But every city has had great experiences.  The American and Canadian capitals are especially fun for visitors.  And the people have been so kind to us.

'School of Rock' tour.
‘School of Rock’ tour. Evan Zimmerman/Murphy Made Photography

Anything special that you want to do while you’re in Seattle?

Our family has friends in Seattle and I will get to meet them. The Space Needle seems very cool to visit. Also, I like zoos and aquariums.  I have been visiting different zoos and aquariums along the way.

What musical would you like to do next?

Billy Elliot would be a great musical to do. I auditioned for it in a local theatre.  But I was too young to be considered. I would love doing the singing and dancing.


Tickets are available online for School of Rock, playing May 14 to 19 at The Paramount Theatre.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for Cornish Magazine, Capitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.